Garrett Jennings


Garrett D. Jennings

Founder at The GDJ Project, Professor at Iona College

twitter: @gjennings0583

Print Designer • Design Educator

The path to educator

I was born in Paterson, NJ, but grew up in Bridgeport Connecticut. Even as a child, I was always looking for new creative medium to use to express myself. I wanted to be an actor, like my idol Paul Robeson, so I went to a specialized high school for performing arts (what used to be called a magnet school). I did so well that I was awarded a full scholarship to the Center for Creative Youth, a summer pre-college program focused on learning, critical thinking and leadership. I moved to Boston to attend Emerson College.

I didn’t know it then, but my high school experiences lead me to my current career as an art and design educator, work based learning consultant and academic.

How did you first get interested in design?

My career in graphic communications and print production began immediately after I graduated from Emerson. I was hired as a Print Production Coordinator by the investment firm Cambridge Associates. It was a very prestigious opportunity so I really committed to using the experience to learn everything that I could about graphic communications. After that, I got a position at Boston Magazine so I could learn more about publishing and online media. While working at the magazine, I enrolled in the Magazine Design and Publishing Program at Boston University so I could hone my skills, master new graphic design software and learn industry best practices.

What are you working on right now, either for work or yourself?

Graphics communications is an exciting industry but, as so many of the 28 Days participants have observed, People of Color (POC) are seriously underrepresented.

I am a pre-engineering high school teacher in the Yonkers Public School System so I work with bright, talented, inner-city students every day. I see potential graphic artists who are hampered by a curriculum that is too under resourced and antiquated to help them prepare for the graphic communication industry of today, much less the industry of tomorrow. This has led me to develop The Jennings Project, an initiative to help public high schools address this issue through work based learning curriculums. I call myself a graphic arts educator, but what I really am is an artist who teaches. My vision for this project is to develop the formal, technical, and conceptual skills of young, inner city artists and designers so they can have dynamic, rewarding careers in this industry. These days, I am focused on developing these curriculums while continuing my work as an academic. I feel that academia is key so I can be an effective resource for schools, educators and the industry.

Tell me about the work you've done?

I’ve worked on national print campaigns for Bank of America, Merrill Lynch, Liberty Mutual, Chili’s and other major corporations at the advertising agency Hill Holliday. As Prepress Coordinator, I was responsible for managing the delivery of every print ad leaving our agency. I collaborated with representatives from some of the world’s most prestigious publications including the Financial Times of London, Conde Nast Traveler and South China Morning News.

That position was a great opportunity to learn more about graphic design software, print production management, digital asset management, color correction, SWOP printing standards and commercial paper stocks. I also became an ad portal expert.

When I moved to New York to get my Masters from NYU, I worked as a Client Services Representative at Diversified Global Graphics Group (DG3) before moving to G2 Worldwide in print production on the Heineken account.

What are your proudest accomplishments of your career?

The NYU Advisory Board awarded me a full scholarship to attend DRUPA in Switzerland. It was a unique opportunity share research ideas and contribute to innovation and leadership at a global level. I met with academics, industry executives and thought leaders working on cutting edge initiatives for 2 weeks. I strongly believe that attending the DRUPA Conference enhanced my understanding of the industry and furthered my education, my career and my development as a thought leader and academic.

What are you doing that's special that sets you apart from your peers?

I am committed to educating high school and college students about the production techniques, technological advances, national and international design trends and history of graphic design so they are prepared for jobs in the industry. My focus on developing work based learning curriculum for high school students sets me apart from many of my peers. That is my focus, my vision and my passion.

What have your experiences been as a person of color in the design industry?

After working in the industry while getting my masters, I realized I wanted to go back to the public school system to find the “Garretts” of the world. I wanted to give these kids the kinds of opportunities I had.

I am the product of a very specialized type of public school. These schools focus on creating an environment that prepares students for certain types of work, in my case it was creative work. If we want to see more POC (and other under represented groups) thrive in the design industry, then we have to make sure that these schools get the resources and industry engagement they need to flourish.

What are your biggest motivators?

My biggest motivators are the art students of today who will be the graphics communications professionals of tomorrow.

What would you like to see changed about the design field?

I would like to see more POCs working in the design industry, but for that to happen employers, tech firms and various stakeholders have to get involved in education before college. I think developing work based learning programs with the industry is the best way to create this kind of far reaching systems change.

How can design be more accommodating to underrepresented populations of people?

The design world, including the tech companies and graphics communications firms, can provide more educational opportunities. One of my responsibilities as an educator is to find internships and other work based learning opportunities for high school and college students so they can get on the job training. This type of training is vitally important to develop these students into dynamic, sophisticated practitioners who will be the industry leaders of tomorrow.

Where do you see yourself in 5 or 10 years?

In 5 to 10 years I will be helping national and global educators develop graphic communications, work based learning curriculums. I will connect schools with industry leaders and the tech community so we can all work together to create education programs that train students to enter the workforce as sophisticated, talented practitioners. I will continue to develop as an education thought leader, researcher and academic.

What advice would you give to folks from a similar background who are in design or hoping to get into it?

As David Airey says, “design for love – work for money.”